Hidey-ho, philosopherinos. It’s time for DAY SIX here at Courtney’s Journey Through Atheism for Lent 2020. As I mentioned on DAY FIVE, today’s material covers brief selections from the writings of:
- Protagoras, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher; “Man is the measure of all things.”
- Epicurus, a Greek philosopher concerned with modest pleasures as the greatest good
- Seneca the Younger, a Roman Stoic who believed philosophy could soothe the pains of life
So let’s have at it. Apologies in advance to all my philosophy teachers ever. (Sorry, not sorry.) 😉
Protagoras (480 – 411 BCE) and the Agnostic Argument of Improbability
“Look,” says Prot, “the question of God or no God — it’s real complicated, right? The answer depends on who you are as a person in your body, in your experience, your season of life, your time. You gotta be skeptical of your own conclusions, because you’re not out here seeing the world as it is — you’re seeing it as you are. Sure, you might be right that God exists — but it’s real improbable, yeah? And tbh you’re not gonna live long enough to sort it all out.”
Protagoras says God might exist, but it’s improbable because we can’t see the universe as it really is. If we’re seeing God in it, that’s because our individual background has primed us to. But God’s existence is highly unlikely. We can’t know: agnostic.
Epicurus (341 – 270 BCE) and the Atheistic Argument of Incoherence
“Dude, get a grip,” insists Epi-Quill. “If God wants to keep us from suffering but can’t, then God’s not all-powerful. If God can keep us from suffering but won’t…well, then, sorry to break it to ya, but your God’s an asshole. What are you gonna do with that? If God can’t or won’t keep us from suffering for no reason — and you know damn well we suffer for no reason all the time — then why call God ‘God’?”
Epicurus aims his remarks against the “classical” notion of God: God as the original mover and shaker, the originator of all, the uncaused cause. Epi says this God makes about as much sense as a square triangle or an unmarried bachelor: incoherent, impossible by definitions.
After reading the selection and doing my snappy little rewrite, I got curious and did some superficial etymology research. Etymology is the study of word origins and the changes of word meanings over history. Here’s what I found:
- God: rooted in the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰutós, meaning “invoked one” or “called-upon one”
Epicurus is asking why we should bother invoking or calling on any being that either isn’t powerful enough or benevolent enough to keep evil from harming us. When I research the word “benevolent,” I find that it’s rooted in words that mean “want/choose good favor” (with the implication of that good favor aimed toward someone). Epicurus refuses belief in a God who demonstrates neither power nor good favor; therefore: atheistic.
Seneca the Younger (~4 BCE – CE 65) and the Ignostic Argument of Irrelevance
“Right.” Sennie leans toward you. “First off, hon, you don’t have to be scared of death or of deities. You don’t have to worry about some Big Other outside of your self that’s gonna decide what your life is like. Honey, you can think! That makes you strong. Courageous to live, baby. Besides, when it comes down to what some ‘God’ has that you don’t — you already have it! The wisdom that goes all through the universe? That’s built into you, sweetie! Not only that, but you’ve seen your way through all sorts of stuff God never had to deal with. Suffering? Ha! God can’t suffer, but you can — and you can rise above it! You can do something God can’t do. Lift your chin and straighten those shoulders, love. You surpass God.”
According to Wiktionary, ignosticism is a term coined by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, and it’s defined as follows:
“the philosophical position that the question of the existence of God is meaningless, because the term ‘god’ has no coherent and unambiguous definition.”
Seneca argues that “God” is irrelevant because we, by our nature and the nature of the universe, already hold within ourselves anything and everything “God” might have to offer. Marrying that thought with the definition of “ignosticism,” we get a God nobody can agree on. Seneca says God can’t suffer, and we’re superior because we can suffer and overcome. But where, asks the Christian believer, does that leave God-as-Jesus suffering in human flesh over the course of a human lifetime and through an excruciating death? And already we’ve arrived at varying definitions of the nature of “God,” and Sennie sits back and smiles, vindicated.
Three arguments against the existence of God.
What do you do with them?
Where do we go from here?
How does this conversation continue?